A juxtaposition of sweetness and cruelty
What kind of story can a filmmaker tell in roughly eleven minutes? In writer and director Jordan Larsen’s case, a compelling tale of a girl’s deteriorating relationship with her mother. From the opening scenes of a mother and daughter fighting in front of a small girl to the slap wringing out right before the flash of the title, this film envelopes a juxtaposition of sweetness and cruelty.
Because American Honey intersperses three different points in a young woman’s life, I spent the first few minutes trying to figure out who was who and what was happening. But once I wrapped my mind around the timeline, I was drawn into Sammy’s three-fold story. The toddler curling up to her unhappy mother in search of a place to stay. The teenager whose mother tenderly helped apply lipstick one minute and the next allowed a man to grope her daughter without a word. The woman who went back, but realized she could never take any of it back.
A few other minor characters float into the scenes, but they are there mainly to highlight Sammy’s situation: the coaches who pull her from a basketball game to take a phone call, the bartender who worriedly helps Sammy load her mom into the truck after a night of overindulgence. However, the heart – or sometimes lack thereof – is between Sammy and her mom, Jill.
The camera work also emphasizes Sammy’s emotions. Our first glimpse of her as a young woman is of her crying in her car’s rear view mirror, as she is returns home. Another on the basketball court shows Sammy and the other players running back and forth until Sammy hits the wall. And the last scene where Sammy walks out of the old trailer and into the light leaves the viewer with a sense of hope that maybe her life will be different. Follow that up with the haunting “Horses Are Faster” playing during the credits, and it’s hard to believe the range of emotions a film can capture so expressively in such a short time.